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How Are The Top College Draft Picks Performing?

Cardinals' First-Round Pick Chase Davis; Photo via ConcreteOski

*Certain views expressed in this article are the opinions of the individual author and not TDA as a whole*

The vast majority of baseball fans, and some Angels front office members, tend to overreact to small samples of performance. The baseball season is a slog, and fans don’t want to have to wait all year to come to conclusions about players. Even though small sample sizes shouldn’t carry much weight in the eyes of evaluators, they can still offer some insight into a player. One of the most frequently viewed small samples is the early performance of first-round draft picks. Most draft picks get thrown into professional action within a few weeks of signing, often at different levels. Everyone starts in the complex leagues, but players who were drafted out of college often get bumped up to minor league affiliates within a week of complex league action. Initial results aren’t an end-all-be-all by any means. However, they do often provide some insight into the trajectory of a player’s career. Here’s a quick stock report of all of the college first-round picks from this year’s draft.

1.1: Paul Skenes, RHP - Pittsburgh Pirates

There’s really nothing to criticize about Paul Skenes. As expected, the fireballer has impressed in his pro debut. Skenes has pitched a combined total of 4 innings between the ACL and Low A. He’s struck out 5 batters, only allowed 1 hit, and flashed the high-octane stuff that made him the top pick of the draft. The fastball has been up to triple digits, and the slider has been as nasty as advertised.

Stock: You can’t afford it

1.2: Dylan Crews, OF - Washington Nationals

LSU’s other superstar has been just as good as Skenes and has made Nats fans even more appreciative that the best hitter in the draft fell to them. In 71 A ball at-bats, Crews has done everything well, hitting to the tune of a 192 wRC+. He has blasted 5 homers and is slugging at an incredible .645 clip. He just got the call to AA, which should put him on a fast track to the District of Columbia.

Stock: Buy

1.4: Wyatt Langford, OF - Texas Rangers

Langford was viewed as one of the safest picks in the draft because every scout believed his game would transfer well to the professional ranks. No surprise to anyone, the scouts appear to have been right. He’s been walking at a nearly 20% clip and is flashing his gap-to-gap power. The excellent approach is backed by his 152 wRC+ and is surely making the Rangers’ front office even more excited by this pick. Everything suggests he could be in Arlington by September of next year.

Stock: Buy

1.6: Jacob Wilson, SS - Oakland Athletics

I have admittedly been lower on Jacob Wilson than most for a long time now. Guys who come out of small schools such as Grand Canyon are always interesting to watch in their first pro ball season because they face more of an adjustment than players coming out of a major conference. His results haven’t been bad so far, but they also haven’t proved anything to me. He’s not a power guy, but he has flashed his contact savvy in High-A Lansing. I’m looking forward to watching Wilson more to see if he can develop his skill set and take his game to a higher level. Fun fact that doesn’t really matter: Wilson has more strikeouts in 59 pro plate appearances than he did the entire college season. That, of course, speaks more to his incredible contact skills and isn’t a knock in any way.

Stock: Hold

Rhett Lowder and Chase Dollander were taken 7th and 9th, respectively, but neither has made their professional debut as of 8/21.

1.11: Nolan Schanuel, 1B - Los Angeles Angels

Before I get to Schanuel’s performance, I’d like to spend a second discussing how absolutely pathetic the Angels front office is. People need to be fired immediately. A lot of fans don’t understand how incredibly valuable the minor leagues are for players to make adjustments and be well-prepared for the jump to MLB. Clearly, Perry Minasian and his staff are even less intelligent than those fans. I can’t even fathom that anyone thought it was a good idea to throw a player who was playing in Conference USA three months ago into MLB action. It’s uneducated, it’s unintelligent, and it will backfire.

However, none of that is a knock on Nolan Schanuel. He’s a great baseball player and has impressed in his 100 professional plate appearances. He had 18 walks to only 9 strikeouts in AA and flashed a really strong hit tool. He’s done very well, and I hope that his momentum isn’t killed by being thrown to the wolves. Through his first 30 MLB plate appearances, he’s been effective, walking at a 20% clip and hitting at a 161 wRC+ clip. However, as big league pitchers get more information on Schanuel they should be able to formulate a better approach, and an adjustment period will be coming in the foreseeable future.

Stock: Sell (because of Minasian, not Schanuel)

1.12: Tommy Troy, SS - Arizona Diamondbacks

While 70 plate appearances isn’t a large enough sample to draw any strong conclusions, Troy’s results have not been impressive. He’s struck out at a 30% clip, something that could be a significant problem if the trend continues, and his overall approach hasn’t been as advanced as originally thought coming out of Stanford. Look for Troy to right the ship and flash the true star potential he has.

Stock: Hold

1.13: Matt Shaw, SS - Chicago Cubs

I was critical of the Cade Horton pick last year and the Cubs have surely proved me wrong. It looks like they’re about to prove me wrong again. I wasn’t high on the pick but thought Shaw could be a productive player. In a small sample at High-A South Bend, he’s shown all five tools. Matt is putting up a 166 wRC+ and has shown serious pop and an ability to hit the ball to all fields. I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing him on Top-100 prospect lists this offseason.

Stock: Buy

1.14: Kyle Teel, C - Boston Red Sox

Teel has fewer plate appearances than most but has certainly proved why he should not have fallen all the way to Boston at pick 14. He has a 183 wRC+ in 35 A+ plate appearances. It’s been a barrage of singles so far and he hasn’t shown his power, but I’m sure it’s coming.

Stock: Hold

1.15: Jacob Gonzalez, SS - Chicago White Sox

Gonzalez entered the 2023 college season as a contender for the first overall pick, but pedestrian numbers at Ole Miss caused him to slide down boards. Through his first taste of pro ball, Gonzalez has displayed all the concerns scouts had that made him fall down boards. Despite having above-average raw power, he can’t seem to translate it into game power very well. In 105 professional plate appearances, he has a 72 wRC+ and is batting an abysmal .211. I expect Gonzalez to improve, but it’s surely been a brutal start.

Stock: Sell

1.17: Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF - Baltimore Orioles

Enrique is just fun to watch play the sport of baseball. Baltimore sent him to Low-A Delmarva, which is probably a conservative assignment. Bradfield has shown everything scouts expected out of him. He’s walking at an incredibly impressive 30% clip while also limiting strikeouts. All of that’s great, but watching EBJ on the bases or in the field is even more impressive. He has 13 stolen bases at Low-A despite only playing in 9 games and is always rock solid in the outfield. I don’t think he needs much development, and he could be a major-league asset by next year.

Stock: Buy

1.18: Brock Wilken, 3B - Milwaukee Brewers

There’s not a lot to say about Wilken. He’s been productive, and I think he’ll continue to be productive. There really haven’t been any surprises from him so far. Brock is hitting at a very solid 162 wRC+ clip in A+ and has shown an advanced approach. I would’ve liked to see him challenged with an AA assignment, but that could still come as he tears up A+. He might be an Arizona Fall League candidate for Milwaukee if they want to see how quickly he can move through the system.

Stock: Hold

1.19: Brayden Taylor, SS - Tampa Bay Rays

Taylor has limited at-bats. However, similar to almost everyone on this list, he has been very good in his first taste of pro ball. His .516 slugging percentage in Low-A shows more power than I knew he had. He was a pretty advanced college bat who won’t need much tweaking as he rises through the ranks for Tampa.

Stock: Buy

1.21: Chase Davis, OF - St. Louis Cardinals

The results for Davis haven’t been great, but Cardinals fans shouldn’t be panicking yet. This is what we knew they were getting. An athletic freak, Davis’ ceiling is as high as almost anyone in the draft. However, he doesn’t come with the polish a lot of these other first-round talents come with. He’s got a pretty swing, but his approach is going to need a lot of fine-tuning. The Cards might also look to quiet down the swing a little to help him with timing against high-caliber pitching. Don’t be scared by the 84 wRC+ yet. It’s all part of the journey.

Stock: Hold

1.24: Hurston Waldrep, RHP - Atlanta Braves

I thought Waldrep was the second-best available pitcher in the draft. He’s certainly making me look smart right now. In 10.1 pro innings, Waldrep has 15 strikeouts and has only given up 2 runs. The stuff is just so advanced for a player right out of college. The Braves haven’t had to tweak his arsenal at all, nor do I expect them to. The command will always be the biggest question, which is a legitimate concern. As Waldrep’s future Braves teammate Spencer Strider said, “command without stuff is just batting practice”. However, if he cleans that up, Waldrep certainly has the stuff to be at the front of Atlanta’s rotation with Strider in a year or two.

Stock: Buy aggressively

1.28: Brice Matthews, SS - Houston Astros

Matthews was a surprise first-round pick and looks to be more of a project player, but it’s easy to see what Houston likes. He’s hitting at a 120 wRC+ in Low-A and has shown plus speed with 10 stolen bases. The strikeout rate is the area of the most concern, as it will always be with Matthews. He’s punching out at a 32% clip, which needs to fall if he wants to climb through the Astros’ farm system. He’ll need at least two or three years in the minors to clean up the mechanics and approach and become a viable big-league option.

Stock: Hold


All of these evaluations are based on a limited sample and are by no means a projection of a player’s entire career. It is interesting to observe some trends that form right away and see how they develop as a player develops. There have been so many top prospects that fizzle out, and so many people with early struggles that eventually become stars. As such, you can never be truly certain about a player’s outlook. Development isn’t linear, and not all players have the same path to reach the majors. Overall, this crop of college players looks really strong, and I expect a lot of them to be knocking on the big league door by next season.



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